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'Flames of Hope' events look to educate, honor:

By PAMELA REINSEL COTTER JOURNAL THRIVE EDITOR

Oct 1st 2012

Young women are not immune to breast cancer, so the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation has designated this year’s Flames of Hope: A Celebration of Life events with the theme “Breast cancer is not just your grandmother’s disease.”

 

   As it has done for the past seven years, the Pawtucket-based nonprofit group is planning a weekend of events (Oct. 5, 6 and 7) to mark October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the largest breast-cancer awareness event in the Northeast.

 

   Breast cancer is the third-leading fatal cancer in the state, so the events are designed to promote awareness and to educate and honor people living with the disease.

 

   The most dramatic part of the weekend is Saturday evening’s Illuminations of Life Ceremony torch walk around the Rhode Island State House to remember those lost to breast cancer. It culminates in the final full “WaterFire” lighting of the season. At dusk, around 6:30 p.m., Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo, of Cranston, will join breast cancer survivors and their loved ones in the walk while a pink-lighted State House serves as a backdrop.

 

   Another torch-bearer is Michelle Curry of Pawtucket, who was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks after turning 36. She said she always thought breast cancer was a disease “for women after age 50,” and could hardly believe when she found a lump herself.

 

   Curry said she did her cancer treatments in Boston, but it took her four months to warm up to her husband’s suggestion that she go to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, because she thought she was tough enough to handle her disease with the support of family and friends.

 

   “My husband said, ‘Let’s take a ride, just talk to them, check it out,’ ” Curry explains. The first person she met at the foundation was Carol Ann Donnelly, a cancer survivor and the organization’s office manager. “She took two hours out of her day” to explain what the foundation offered, Curry says. Now, she goes to support groups twice a month, and will be featured in the organization’s 2013 Celebrate Hope, Celebrate Life calendar.

 

   “They’ve given me a lot of support. That’s what I needed,” Curry says of the foundation. “It’s important to meet people and talk with people who understood my feelings and my fears.

 

   “I’ve become very good friends with survivors met through Gloria Gemma Foundation, and I’m thankful every day,” Curry adds. “I can’t say enough about them. They have turned my life around.”

 

   Another survivor, Nicole Bourget, says she’s getting involved in the Gemma organization because when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago at age 31, there were few young women to talk about her health concerns.

 

   “The only resources I had were women in their mid-to-late 50s, who already had children, couldn’t relate to my questions and anxiety,” she says, about her then 4-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

 

   “I feel, in my life at this point, all I want to do is pay it forward to other women with anxiety and that feeling of aloneness,” she says.

 

   More than 100,000 Rhode Islanders are expected to participate in the weekend events, taking in educational exhibits, health screenings, food, arts, crafts, music, shopping and more.

 

   Kickoff is an opening reception on Friday, Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Providence Marriott Downtown, which includes an unveiling of a calendar featuring 12 Rhode Island women who each received a breast-cancer diagnosis before the age of 40 — 11 survivors, and Kate Kenworthy-Rodrigues, who lost her life to breast cancer earlier this year.

 

   The Education & Wellness Pavilion will be open throughout the weekend, featuring free health screenings and health and wellness products. In addition, the popular Breaking Boards for Breast Cancer demonstration will be held by Smithfield-based Mastery Martial Arts.

 

   On Sunday, Culpo will join teammates from St. Mary Academy Bay View, where she attended high school, in the Gloria Gemma 5K, the foundation’s biggest fundraising event of the year. There’s a Gloria Gemma 1K for kids, at 10:15. pcotter@providencejournal.com (401) 277-7155 For more information, visit flamesofhoperi.com . 

The Providence Journal eEdition